Rudolph Diesel designed his famous engine to run on refined peanut oil. As far back as the 1890s, Diesel saw the development of a biomass industry as the key to future transportation. He wanted to improve the efficiency of the steam engine as well as keep the world’s struggling agriculture industry alive in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. He believed developing a domestic fuel crop would help farmers stay on their land and allow nations to further a sustainable new industry.
Unfortunately, the oily hands of the petroleum tycoons strangled the life out of his idea. By the 1920s, diesel engines were altered to utilize lower viscosity fossil fuel residue rather than anything based on biomass.
This slick move all but wiped out any competitive threat biomass posed to the petroleum tycoons. Rudolph Diesel’s vision sank into a sea of light, sweet crude oil. The concept of using corn and food as a potential fuel fell into obscurity. Until now.
“We can build a whole new industry in Hawai’i with the financial backing and support from the County and State,” says Kelly King, marketing and communication director at Kahului-based Pacific Biodiesel.
Catapulting Rudolph Diesel’s vision into the 21st century, Bob and Kelly King, the founders of Pacific Biodiesel, understand the need for long-term vision and sustainability—especially on an island where virtually every commodity is imported.
Since 1996, Pacific Biodiesel has been producing a local fuel from the used cooking grease collected from Maui’s restaurants and hotels. Taking a countywide grease waste problem and converting it into a clean burning energy source, Bob King’s innovative technology is being praised locally and nationally—even by oilman President Bush.
Biodiesel is a renewable fuel made by chemically reacting alcohol with vegetable oils, fats or greases. Through a refinery process called transesterification, the reaction of the oil with an alcohol removes the glycerin—a byproduct which can be made into soap.
Biodiesel can be used in pure form (B100), or blended with petroleum diesel. It works in any diesel engine with only minor—or no—modifications. Older diesel engines may have incompatible hoses, but King will provide new ones.
Even a 20/80 blend of biodiesel with petroleum will significantly reduce the carcinogenic sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter emissions that cause global warming. In fact, biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.
Pacific Biodiesel has built two biodiesel processing plants in Hawai’i. The plant at the county’s Central Maui landfill is now diverting an average of 80 tons of used cooking oil and more than 375 tons of grease-trap waste per month for fuel use. The Sand Island facility on Oahu diverts 188 tons of used cooking oil and 655 tons of grease-trap waste per month.
For the first time in Pacific Biodiesel’s existence, local demand for biodiesel has exceeded available supply, forcing the company to temporarily stop accepting new customers. The reason is simple: with the skyrocketing price of fossil fuel, biodiesel is cheaper than petroleum. On Maui, B100 biodiesel currently sells for $2.59 per gallon, while the oil-based stuff retails for about $3.72 per gallon.
To help quench Maui’s thirst for this liquid gold, Pacific Biodiesel is shipping over thousands of gallons of biodiesel from their Sand Island plant. For the past six months on Maui, sales of the B100 have risen from an average of 9,000 gallons sold per month to 12,000 gallons.
This interest from individual, corporate and industrial fleet customers is unprecedented. The U.S. Navy on Oahu has been speaking with Pacific Biodiesel because they want to use B-20 in all non-combat vehicles by 2006. Even the Superferry wants to use biodiesel.
Kelly King says Pacific Biodiesel stopped signing up new B100 fuel customers in September to assure they had enough fuel to serve their current customer base. For the past 30 days, Kelly has collected the names of 45 individuals who want to start using the B100 fuel.
“We don’t want to tell people to eat more fried foods so we can have a greater supply of local fuel,” says King, laughing. “We don’t want to push obesity.”
There’s a better way. Knowing the supply of waste cooking oil in the islands is finite and limited to about 200,000 gallons per year on Maui, Pacific Biodiesel is investing significant resources in starting local fuel crops.
Growing fuel crops on Maui and throughout Hawai’i would not only develop a new independent energy industry, support a number of local industries and create jobs, it would help make our isolated islands less dependent on foreign oil, mainland shipping schedules and fees.
Currently, Hawai’i receives 300 million gallons of petroleum diesel fuel every year. That fuel moves all goods and services throughout Hawai’i. As the price of fossil fuel heads higher, so do the corresponding prices for goods and services.
“As long as we’re solely dependent on petroleum, we’re not sustainable,” said King.
Ed Reinhardt, President of Maui Electric Company (MECO), shares King’s concerns. Reinhardt worries about the reliance on imported fossil fuel for Maui’s and Hawai’i’s energy needs.
“This is one of the things that occasionally keeps me up at night,” Reinhardt says. “It’s also one of the reasons why in recent years MECO has more aggressively pursued alternate energy resources through our non-utility company, Renewable Hawai’i on Maui. Notwithstanding the State’s RPS mandate, and as the cost of imported fuel rises, it will become more economically feasible to develop renewable energy technologies and grow/develop feed stock.”
Reinhardt believes growing a local fuel crop is one of the things that must happen if we are to become self-sufficient in energy generation. He says MECO would seriously consider running more units with biodiesel if there was a stable, cost-effective supply of the fuel on the island. Maui Electric Co. currently uses B100 to cut down on the amount of polluting air emissions from two 12.5-megawatt diesel generators at the Ma’alaea Power Plant.
“Biodiesel has a high oxygen content (about 10 percent) and using it on two of our diesel units during startup, shutdown and after overhaul engine break-in periods enables the units to stay within the limits of its environmental permit during these periods,” Reinhardt says.
John R. Brooks, Maui Agricultural Partners’ manager, also supports breaking oil’s stranglehold.
“We live on an island that is largely dependent on imports to sustain the basic lifestyle we enjoy,” he says. “It makes sense to explore options that would enable us to survive any breakdown or significant interruptions of the delivery of those imports. The development of coordinated and interrelated agricultural operations, such as growing the fuel crops for biodiesel, would facilitate the local production of fuel and food to help meet local island needs.”
In June 2004, Pacific Biodiesel partnered with Maui Land and Pineapple (ML&P) for a yearlong experiment growing renewable fuel crops. According to Clair Sullivan, ML&P’s Manager of Special Projects and Corporate Communication, the trial project was grown on ML&P’s Honolua Farm in West Maui.
Spearheading the project was Marco Rojas, a graduate from Earth University in Costa Rica. Rojas grew sunflower, safflower and soybeans on 30 small plots. Unfortunately, the only results that could be measured were the weight gains among the local bird population, “The Franklins devoured the crops,” says Sullivan.
But all was not lost. King now realizes a successful demonstration project will require more acreage to allow for this “bird tax” and to accurately determine the costs and the yields of oil per crop, per year.
Kelly King has been speaking with individual farmers on Maui and Kauai who are eager to participate in a demonstration project.
“Getting the land and is not the issue,” says King. “I have local farmers approaching me offering 80 to 100 acres ready to grow the seed-crop. The obstacle now is securing financial support to fund a demonstration model, paying a local farmer to grow a seed crop such as sunflower, safflower, soybean or the Jatropha tree, and not worry about their costs. We just need to get the crop in the ground so we can calculate how much we can yield in Hawai’i’s climate and soil conditions and come up with hard figures of how much it will cost.”
Bob and Kelly King are convinced of the project’s viability. Like Rudolph Diesel, they are excited about the potential of keeping farmers on their lands by growing an environmentally positive, domestic fuel crop.
“We believe every community should have the opportunity to use its own resources to make its own energy and lessen their petroleum dependency,” says King. She believes a local fuel crop industry will not only sustain agricultural lands, it will diversify the local agriculture industry and establish a sustainable agriculture system in Maui and Hawai’i.
“Give Pacific Biodiesel some of the $15 to $20 million going to support the tourism industry and we’ll build a whole new sustainable industry around it,” King says.
A major component of a biodiesel agriculture system would include the local cattle industry. Once the fuel oil is extracted from the seed crop, the byproduct can be turned into animal feed. This is also a critical step to keeping local cattle on Maui and building another viable local industry.
Access to relatively inexpensive feed and the lack of a slaughter facility on island has forced cattlemen to ship their cows to mainland feedlots to fatten them up and process.
“The seed-crop we decide to grow will not only be based on which one will generate the largest oil yields, but which one provides a byproduct with the highest amount of protein for the cattle meal,” says King.
A local processing facility and a rendering plant to deal with the waste stream will need to be built to complete the circle of sustainability. Tallow (animal fat) collected from the rendering plant can also be made into biodiesel. The manure and bone meal can be turned into fertilizer for the farmers.
“Working closely with the cattle industry will add value to the crop and help us buy down the crop by getting other values out of it—making it a very sustainable crop,” King says.
State Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings enthusiastically supports the King’s vision. In fact, he’s putting together legislation to help lessen the dependence on imported fossil fuel in Hawai’i. His “Energy Independence Package” holds a comprehensive set of energy proposals that will significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels through creative uses of wind, wave, solar, bio-fuels and hydrogen.
“The package includes proposals to enhance conservation by encouraging drivers to operate alternatively fueled vehicles, increase the commercial availability of alternative fuels for both transportation and electric power production, including a Farm to Fuel project for biodiesel, and expedite the use of clean, conservation friendly energy sources that are readily available within the state,” says Hemmings.
“Because Hawai’i is over-dependent on fossil fuel, I believe we must look for alternative energy sources for the 21st century,” he adds. “Those sources should be clean, renewable and readily available like biodiesel. Biodiesel should be a major component of any comprehensive renewable energy package.” MTW